I am attempting to develop variable names following Unidata's climate forecasting (CF) variable naming guidelines, but for biological variables used to parameterize and evaluate land surface and ecosystem models (See a first draft on Google drive). However, I can not find the documentation for these guidelines.

Until early 2014, the guidelines were here: http://cf-pcmdi.llnl.gov/, but now there is a link to http://cfconventions.org/, and then a list of standard names, but the guidelines page that this points to does not (currently) exist.

I think it would be helpful here to have a link to the appropriate documentation, but also a summary of the guidelines (i.e., how to construct variable names that are consistent with the CF approach). In addition, any feedback on the standard_name field in my draft would be appreciated.


2 Answers 2


Possible this is not what you need, but here's an archive of the Guidelines for Construction of CF Standard Names, which is "Version 1, 3 December 2008" and was cached on July 28, 2013; guessing that the page has not been updated since December 2008.

Also, the source code repository for CF Conventions website you linked to (cf-convention.github.io) is viewable from here; if you had questions about the status of the site, you might try contacting the developer listed on Github for the project; their email is listed on their Github profile.

UPDATE: Here's the contact info for the CEDA Data Scientist; their "main role in CEDA is the development of metadata standards, particularly the CF (Climate and Forecast) metadata conventions."


As a result of @blunders answer, I located the document, and will summarize here:

The general framework for constructing names is:

[surface] [component] standard_name [at surface] [in medium] [due to process] [assuming condition]


  • surface is a horizontal plane, e.g. tropopause, or sea_level.
    • Single word surface names go at the beginning; surfaces with more than one name goes after the standard_name
    • tropopause_stuff
    • stuff_at_sea_level
  • component is a vector, e.g. upward, northward, x, etc.
  • medium is, e.g. in_water, in_soil, etc.
  • process starts with "due_to", e.g. due_to_longwave_heating
  • assuming condition is a conditional assumption, e.g. assuming_clear_sky

Other conventions: there are a number of further conventions provided to standardize meaning, e.g. in the construction of standard_names when transformations, special phrases, chemical species, or generic names are used. For example,

  • transformations imply a particular form of units, e.g ratio_of_X_to_Y implies a specific form for the units (in this case [x]/[Y].
  • generic names imply specific units, e.g. amount implies kg/m2, area implies m2, etc.
  • there are standard spellings for chemical species, e.g. nitrate, carbon_dioxide
  • phrases: water refers to H$_2$O in all phases; wrt = with respect to, toa = top of atmosphere, etc.

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